Local financial services bodies have expressed their concerns about Malta’s political climate in the wake of the Vitals magisterial inquiry, stating that attacks on members of the judiciary will damage Malta’s reputation, negatively affecting the whole country.

In a joint statement on Friday (today) afternoon, the Institute of Financial Services Practitioners (IFSP), the Malta Institute of Accountants (MIA), the Malta Institute of Taxation (MIT) and the Society of Trusts & Estate Practitioners (STEP – Malta) stated that they are “deeply concerned” about the current situation in the country.

Over the past week, headlines have been dominated by the news of the Vitals scandal, a deal to privatise three state hospitals that saw around €400 million in public funds being spent. The deal, pushed by former Prime Minister (PM) Joseph Muscat and his administration, was later annulled by court and is now engulfed in legal proceedings. Current PM Robert Abela on Monday held a 90-minute press conference, in which he appealed for calm, stating that all individuals involved should be seen as innocent until the judicial procedure is launched and concluded.

A number of individuals are facing charges related to the deal, including Dr Muscat, together with his former Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and ex-Minister Konrad Mizzi, as well as other politicians, civil servants, and businesses.

During the week, PM Abela has also repeatedly questioned the timing of the conclusion of the inquiry. While the inquiry had been ordered five years ago, he has stated that it has been timed to coincide with MEP elections, set to take place in June, by the so-called “establishment” in a bid to damage the Labour Party. He also affirmed that the upcoming elections will serve as an opportunity for the public to vote in favour or against the magisterial inquiry that led to the charges. Additionally, Dr Muscat has also been very vocal about his position on the charges.

In the statement, the financial services bodies condemned the attacks on members of the judiciary and against the workings of the judiciary, describing them as “unacceptable.”

“Such statements and actions undermine the independence and proper functioning of our democratic institutions and undermine the public’s confidence in the judiciary. These attacks also potentially cause irreparable damage to Malta’s reputation in the eyes of current and future investors, economic operators, practitioners in the financial services industry and assessors,” they continued.

This is in line with a separate statement released by employer bodies on Wednesday, which called for an urgent Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD) meeting, pointing towards concerns related to statements made by PM Abela.

The financial services bodies affirmed that such attacks are “unacceptable in a democratic society,” as they can have “untold repercussions,” potentially leaving a “severe, detrimental and lasting effect” on Malta’s social well-being and stability. The financial services bodies also stated that the judiciary is deserving of the highest respect and should be allowed to function with the “complete serenity” it requires to fulfil its role.

“Any doubts should be addressed through the proper institutional channels that exist in a democratic country like Malta, such as the Commission for the Administration of Justice and certainly not via the media or political platforms,” they added.

The associations stated that the financial services sector has been “painstakingly built over the past 35 years,” and has grown to become a major contributor to Malta’s economy and a major employer, and therefore any damage to Malta’s reputation as a “stable, robust and serious financial centre will negatively affect the country as a whole.”

The bodies have thus urged involved parties to “act responsibly and with integrity,” while also upholding the principles of the rule of law, good governance, and full respect for the country’s judiciary and the Malta Constitution.

The statement comes on the same day that Chris Fearne, one of the individuals charged, submitted his resignation from his role as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for European Funds, Equality, Reforms and Social Dialogue. He also requested the removal of his nomination for the European Commission. However, PM Abela immediately urged Dr Fearne to reconsider his decision, expressing his “full trust” in him.

On Thursday, APS Bank announced that Joseph Rapa, one of three permanent secretaries facing charges of fraud, making fraudulent gains and misappropriation, is to be removed from the Board of Directors.

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